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An Open Letter to Leon Vitali

[author’s note: Sadly, Mr. Vitali has passed away on 19th August 2022, at the age of 74. The contents of this page will be left unaltered for posterity and in thanks of his efforts. May he rest in peace.]

Dear Mr. Vitali,

On the off-chance that you have discovered the existence of “The 33 Degrees of Eyes Wide Shut“, by word-of-mouth or some other means, and have decided to join my readership in your attentions: I extend to you a warm welcome. If you have read through my findings, I imagine it may have been a particularly sentimental moment to realize that Stanley’s casting of you, for two parts in the film, seems to have been done as a cryptic commendation of your character and loyalty. I can only suppose what it must be like to receive a secret message from a late friend and mentor, more than two decades after their passing. Hopefully, this has brightened your day somewhat.

You may note that the permeating nature of the Eyes Wide Shut‘s Scottish Rite code shines a light on a few different things surrounding the film. For one, it basically confirms for everyone (by a sequential process of elimination) that the finished edit of the film is predominantly faithful to what Stanley wanted and has not been short-changed in any hugely significant way. Obviously, the movie has been deprived of the up-to-the-last-minute tinkering that was typical of his production process, and there are some decisions (such as Cate Blanchett overdubbing the Abigail Good role) that didn’t happen on his watch– but in most important respects, it seems that Eyes Wide Shut can now essentially be termed “complete” and adherent to Stanley’s artistic vision.

However, there is one line of consideration that the revelation of the Scottish Rite code seems to invite: that of aspect ratios.

Please understand that I do not deem myself as having the expertise (or arrogance) to “tell you how to do your job”. Nor am I personally invested, to any meticulous degree, in the finer technical nuances of filmmaking and playback media. But the simple fact of the matter is this: that there are at least a couple of visual elements in Eyes Wide Shut‘s Scottish Rite code which were positioned close to the periphery of the frame, and have not survived into its re-release transfers outside of the open matte 4:3 aspect ratio.

I should state that this does not necessarily imply a mistake, since earlier Kubrick films like The Shining were similarly filmed in open matte with Stanley having clarified his intention for them to be ‘cropped’ on home video releases. However, for those earlier films, there is less of a case to be made that the excised edges of the frame are “essential” to the viewing experience.

Maybe Stanley composed the shots of Eyes Wide Shut in anticipation so that, even with the missing details at the edges, home audiences would have enough on their screens to experience the bare minimum ‘core’ of the film, and that the cropped parts would intentionally be considered as little bonuses for whoever had the privilege of seeing it in its full frame format.

The point is that we can’t really be certain. For all we know, Eyes Wide Shut releases overseen by Stanley could have ended up with shifting aspect ratios throughout the film, just as the approved transfers for some of his earlier movies did. I guess the question I’m asking is: if the optimal viewing specifications can’t be confirmed with any sense of finality, wouldn’t it be the safest bet for the film to be offered in a multitude of different ratio formats and let the audience decide which ones they prefer?

In preparing my analysis of the film, the only way I was able to view the open matte 1.33:1 version of Eyes Wide Shut was through the second hand purchase of a first edition, standard definition DVD printed in 2001 (which, thankfully, was not blighted by the censorship that plagued the first-run American releases). Indeed, the DVD starts with a quick message, reading: “This feature is presented in the full aspect ratio of the original camera negative, as Stanley Kubrick intended“. As best I can tell, the full aspect ratio version has not been released in any form since then.

I won’t lie to you, now– I did find this lack of availability to be a bit shocking. Perhaps there are preventative economic forces at work here, beyond anyone’s control, or there is some kind of bureaucratic deadlock with the film’s distribution. Regardless of the reason (and I am not pointing fingers, here), I hope there is some way that this can be addressed in future, as the digital streaming age gradually wears away the strictures of the past.

At any rate, thank you for your countless contributions over the just-as-countless years. I hope you can rest at ease knowing your devotional passion has helped bring such transcendent experiences into the lives of so many.



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